Creating and Sustaining Strength for Life

Here are some reasons why changing up your exercise regime over time is a good thing.

Man strength training

Resistance training has a multitude of benefits, regardless of your age group.

© gradyreese | E+/Getty Images

Every serious exerciser eventually hits a wall. If you don’t vary what you do, muscles get used to it and no longer make improvements or strength gains. It’s called plateauing. You may be working as hard as ever but not getting any measurable benefit. That’s a clear signal to reevaluate your program. The following is a closer look why change is good.

Workout Variety Matters

You’ve worked hard to fight off the effects of aging. You’ve followed guidelines recognized by the American Heart Association and get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-to-intense aerobic exercise. You maintain a healthy weight and have a score of 24.9 or less on the BMI (Body Mass Index) scale. BMI is a measure of body fat in adults determined by a combination of height and weight. To calculate your BMI, go to nhlbi.nih.gov.

Your diet is heavy in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, fish, and poultry. It’s low in red meat, processed meat, sweets, and fast foods.

You signed up at a local fitness center, you do occasional lifting as part of your job, or you do a lot of pushing and pulling in your yard or garden.

Although you’ve conscientiously followed every good health principle, the demands of everyday living might have gotten in the way of maintaining the level of strength you once enjoyed. You’ve become a prime target for the “use it or lose it” warning. Not doing anything— or anything differently—about the inevitable loss of muscle size and strength will result in the loss of both.

Resistance Training for Every Body, Especially Older Ones

The evidence supporting resistance training for all age groups continues to grow. More than a decade ago, the journal Sports Medicine confirmed that resistance training in older adults:

  1. increases muscle quality
  2. increases power
  3. reduces the difficulty of performing daily tasks
  4. enhances energy expenditure and body composition
  5. promotes participation in spontaneous physical activity.

The Journal of Gerontology added that progressive resistance training resulted in improvements to muscle strength and some aspects of daily function, including gait speed. It has since been identified as a predictor of life expectancy.   I

In 2017, BioMed Research International reported that supervised, progressive, high-effort resistance training is well tolerated and effective in improving strength, body composition, function, and well-being in older adults. High-intensity training has traditionally been reserved for the young. This study changes that thinking. A January 2018 review of studies in Experimental Gerontology found that neuromuscular characteristics were improved after resistance training among older adults with an average age of 60. The American College of Sports Medicine (ASCM) now recommends that healthy adults of all ages engage in a strength training program a minimum of two non-consecutive days each week. Yet, only 10-15 percent of older Americans and 21 percent of all adults do any form of strength training. To complicate matters, Americans have a tendency to become less active as they age. The combination of growing older and exercising less is an unhealthy formula.

Strength Training May Reduce Age-related Cellular Damage

One of the most interesting studies of 2017 was conducted at the Mayo Clinic. Researchers there set out to determine the changes, if any, that resistance training would have on genes, cell function, and mitochondria—the structures responsible for producing energy, in older adults compared to younger adults. They found that older adults who did interval training experienced more changes at the cellular level than the younger group. The finding suggests that the cellular health of muscles normally associated with aging seemed to have been corrected with exercise. The implication: It’s never too late for exercise to result in positive changes in muscle function.

Maintain Your Muscle Mass

The elephant in the wellness room remains a condition that most people don’t know about or don’t like to talk about—sarcopenia. It is age-related loss of muscle mass.

Adults begin to lose muscle mass in their 30s. Losing muscle mass means progressively losing muscle strength for the rest of your life unless you do something about it. The loss of strength has an effect on activities of daily living, the capacity to live independently, and even life expectancy. Sarcopenia contributes to restricted mobility, frailty, osteoporosis, falls, and fractures, as well as diabetes and weight gain. The risk of disability is almost five times higher in older persons with sarcopenia than in people with normal muscle tissue and strength.

Resistance (strength) training is extremely effective for preventing sarcopenia. A strength program enhances motor neuron firing and protein synthesis, both needed to build muscle mass. This increase even occurs in older adults, which suggests that it is possible to rebuild muscle strength, regardless of age.

A study in the American Journal of Hypertension found that low-intensity resistance training alone did not affect body composition, but a combination of exercise and a lower-calorie diet improved strength and prevented further loss of lean body mass.

Although some level of sarcopenia is inevitable as we age, exercise plus dietary changes can reduce the rate of strength and muscle mass loss. Protein and vitamin D are essential factors in muscle function. Excessive intake of acid-producing foods, including red meat, white bread, and alcohol may have an effect on muscle and bone health, especially when combined with a low intake of fruits and vegetables.

For more information on building strength, purchase More Strength and Power at www.UniversityHealthNews.com.

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